Opening Time – George Wood – From the St Kilda Mail Archives 1977

 

It was on a very dark night in late April of last year (1976) that I travelled on the army L.T.C. from Loch Carnan to Hirta. On my approach Dun and Conachair were silhouetted against the dark sky and then on entering Village Bay I saw the long row of lights stretching from the jetty to the beach landing strip, like beacons, guiding our way as we slowly came inshore.

With the assistance of the army and the Department of the Environment I was soon opening up the Trust houses, putting new panes of glass in the windows broken with the winter storms, and bringing out of store beds and mattresses for the members of the first work party due to arrive in three weeks time. The houses were damp and cold but fresh air worked wonders in a little time. The rusty cooker in No. 1 almost sparkled again with applications of Brillo.

Village Street was like the finest lawn. April had been a good month and only the Soay sheep had walked along it clipping the grass very closely, and with no passage of humans there were not yet the sodden tracks or ruts that were to come again in the next month or so.

Early in May Dr Mike Harris and Stewart Murray were engaged on a Puffin Study and swinging across the Breaches Buoy with them I enjoyed two wonderful days on Dun. These days were perfect, warm and dry and the luxuriant vegetation we know on Dun, had hardly come to life and it was an easy scramble for me to traverse from end to end. Approaching the fort and beyond you get very close to the colonies of razorbills, guillemots and shags, while puffins and fulmars whirr or glide over your head. It is a truly wonderful bird island.

At the end of April a black-tailed godwit was feeding in the meadow at Lady Grange’s house. The months of May and June are wonderful times for studying bird life, first the nesting and the hatching of chicks. Besides all the familiar seabirds, redwing and collared dove were often around the Factor’s house. In early May I counted over 100 golden plover on the slopes of Ruaival and a similar number of eider in Village Bay. It was a common sight in the early morning to see the male eider and his mate walking towards An Lag looking for a home amongst the boulders. A golden eagle flew around Oiseval for several days and a female merlin was seen. I began to recognise the Soay ewes and rams which took us the same territory every morning and left it for higher ground in the evening.

In the two months or so that I was on Hirta, the weather was not at its best, but when one gets a good day, the others are forgotten. There were a lot of south east gales which were on shore to Hirta.

It was great to meet Joe Keppie with the first work party about this time, some of whom were glad to be on terra firma again. By this time I had set up shop in the schoolroom and arranged some artifacts in house no. 4. It may be of interest to mention that the shop had a turnover of approximately £500 and perhaps the creation of a small Folk Museum could be a project for a future work party.

My days on Hirta were very pleasant ones and I enjoyed the company and hospitality of the work parties. I have a lot of contact with the army personnel and contractors men often through the shop – I was always welcome at the Puff Inn an in the Messes and I cannot speak too highly of the willing co-operation of the C.O. and other ranks in my work and in helping in every way possible for the comfort and enjoyment of my stay.

George Wood, Warden April – June 1976

St Kilda Club Photographic Competition November 2017

Send in your photos of a memorable St Kilda visit and win a share of the prizes!

The competition judging will take place during the Annual Reunion at 3.45pm on Saturday 25th November 2017.

There are three categories to enter in: ‘Scenery’, ‘Nature’ and ‘Fun and Folk’

Deadline is Friday 3rd November 2017

Competition is only open to St Kilda Club members only

For more details and to enter, please click below:

2017 St Kilda Club_Photography Competition_Entry Form_pg 1

 

The Beginning – Alex Warwick – from the St Kilda Mail Archives 1977

2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the St Kilda Mail – the first edition told the story of how it all began, written by the President of the Club in 1977, Alex Warwick…

“In June 1958 George and Irene Waterston led the first of the Trust’s volunteer working parties to St Kilda. For two weeks their party of twelve worked in the village street collecting articles of interest and general tidying up the village area. In their spare time they explored Hirta, the main island, taking particular interest in the birds.

I followed them with a similar party and stayed on for another week to help lead the Joint Schools Expedition with whom, in the previous summer I had been marooned for ten days on the Monarch Isles in an abortive attempt to visit St Kilda.

The enthusiasm generated by these groups was most encouraging. Several members felt a need to communicate their experiences and articles and photographs appeared in the local newspapers and journals across the country. We met as groups in the leaders’ houses, a joint meeting followed at Trust Headquarters and we decided to hold a public meeting. I booked the Overseas House and we attracted a capacity audience. Seton Gordon was chairman, our speakers were Morton Boyd, Tom Weir and Bob Hillcoat. George Waterston and I added group reports.

Ever since, the demand for places on the work parties has been more than we could accommodate and even when, in the early 1960s, because of the rapid deterioration of the mortar built village houses we increased the number of annual parties from two to an average of six, we could not take everyone who applied. Over fifteen hundred people from UK, Europe and America have taken part, many friendships formed and a number of marriages arranged!

We have been very lucky. There would have been much less to go to St Kilda for if the Trust had not dug its tows in over the question of whether or not the War Department should be allowed to demolish the street which was originally programmed by the WD as the site of the road to the Radar Station on Mullach More. Trips would have been much more hazardous, if not impossible, had not the Army been in residence to supply communications, medical service, Council and its wardens. Group leaders have not spared themselves in making their expeditions successful. The chartered boat crews with whom we sailed have entered the spirit of the activity and HQ staff work has been absolutely first class.”

 

St Kilda AGM, Annual Dinner and Reunion – 25th November 2017

It’s not long now until what will be the 41st AGM of the St Kilda Club, followed by the Annual Dinner and Reunion on Saturday 25th November, at Edinburgh Zoo in The Education Centre and the Mansion House.

This year’s programme offers a wealth of riches, with Susan Bain’s NTS report and the photographic competition in the afternoon, and after leader the work party leaders reports and an illustrated talk from Ben Buxton.

In the morning, NTS Archivist, Ian Riches, and Seabird & Marine Ranger on St Kilda, Gina Prior will be happy to meet and speak with people, and show a selection of material from the archives and Gina’s excellent photographs of St Kilda.

We look forward to catching with you in November.

St Kilda Club Photographic Competition 2016

GREEN-9_Puffin-selfie-Dun-150x150.jpgBLUE-8_Snow-flurryThe-Village-Street-150x150.jpgBLUE-12-Another-Fine-Day-On-St-Kilda-150x150.jpgRED-56-What-can-you-See....-150x150.jpg

Send in your photos of a memorable St Kilda visit and win a share of the prizes!

The competition judging will take place during the annual Reunion at 3.30pm on Saturday 26th November 2015.

There are three categories to enter in: ‘Scenery’, ‘Nature’ and ‘Fun and Folk’

Deadline is Friday 4th November 2016

Competition is only open to St Kilda Club members only

For more details and to enter, please click below:

st-kilda-club_photographic-competition-2016_info-entry-form

Dead-eye, St Kilda

Dead-eye, St Kilda by Betty Tindal – found on St Kilda in 2006

A pulley really

From an old sailing ship,

in my hand, tactile, evocative.

See where the ropes bit,

smoothing and polishing the timber?

Was it this that saved it from a winter fire?

Here in my hands a tiny working part

of a tall ship….

See the men hauling on ropes,

hear the blocks creaking,

as the masts bend under the wind.

making the rigging sing…

Waves slap wooden hulls,

adding to the symphony of sea sounds,

for many journeys till…

came the stormtoendallstorms

Battered and broken, flotsam

made its quiet way to this remote island.

Now just a sculpture of holes,

ridges,

curves.

Sightlines

New books on St Kilda have usually been well advertised by their publishers in recent years, so keeping up with the ever expanding literature of St Kilda is not difficult. However, avid readers of anything new on St Kilda may have missed an account by a visitor to St Kilda in rather unusual circumstances. ‘Sightlines’ (Sort of Books, 2012, ISBN 978-0-956-3086-6-5) by Kathleen Jamie, Professor of Creative Writing at Stirling University, is a collection of fourteen essays about landscapes, in which we are invited to ‘look afresh at our surroundings’. The essays are as much about wildlife as landscapes, but they include an account of a visit to St Kilda at third attempt. She accompanied the four surveyors from the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Scotland who surveyed the built structures on St Kilda over three years, on one of their annual visits. She worked alongside Jill Harden and Sam Dennis, two archaeologists from the NTS who will be known to some past work party members. Her reflections on the people, the work, the islands and the wildlife make interesting reading. In the same volume, there is also an equally interesting account of two weeks on North Rona, with Jill Harden and Stuart Murray, recording the seabirds and the archaeology.

Jeffrey Stone

Thank you members of the St Kilda Club

Following the recent correspondence sent out to all the members of the St Kilda Club, I felt I had to say a huge THANK YOU to you all!

The number of people visiting the website has increased, and the number of ‘likes’ on Facebook and followers on Twitter has also increased.

I have been inundated with emails and letters with material for the website, and am now in the process of getting it all together ready to share with you all.

I look forward to seeing and meeting you all at the reunion on Saturday 14th November.

Headline News – Today, 29 August 1930

At 5am this morning, HMS Harebell lowered her whaler. Ship’s log, 29/08/1930: “Embarked the inhabitants of St Kilda, 14 women, 13 men, 15 Children.”  Later, “Everyone on board. Hoisted boat. 08.02 hrs Weighed. Proceeded 11.5 knots”

With this laconic entry, the permanent occupation of St Kilda ended.

In a report submitted by Lieutenant-Commander Pomfret, a very small amount of flesh is added to the bare bones of the end of a way of life, “At 07.00 hours all the houses were locked and the people taken on board. Shortly afterwards they were looking their last at St Kilda as the Harebell, quickly increasing speed, left the island a blur on the horizon. Contrary to expectations they had been very cheerful throughout, though obviously very tired…”.  Elsewhere you will read that the islanders left their doors unlocked with a bowl of meal on the table, bible open, and the fire banked up. If you know of the primary source for this alternative view of the evacuation please let us know.

There are no photographic records of that day. On the 28th August, the Dunara Castoe set sail at noon bound for Oban, carrying the last visitors to the island – including tourists and reporters, decks laded with many of the possessions of the islanders.  The first picture is taken while the islanders were loading their possessions on the Dunara Castle (probably the 27th).

The lady carrying her cist is Katy Gillies. The gentleman desperate to help (you can see he is itching to step forward to assist) is George Henderson of the  Scottish Home and Health Department who was sent to oversee the evacuation. It is recorded that the St Kildans refused all offers of help to carry their possessions from their houses to the jetty.

At 6,37am on the 30th August, the Harebell anchored in the Sound of Mull, and 24 of the islanders transferred to the Princess Louise bound for Lochaline. Here we can catch the first glimpse of the islanders post evacuation.  In the second picture, a view of the bridge section of the Princess Louise, the young lad standing to the left of the wheel is a young Norman John Gillies, born 22/5/1925, died 29/9/2013.

The next photograph, taken as the islanders disembark, shows Norman John more clearly.

The final photograph here, shows the islanders possessions landed at the pier at Oban, awaiting collection by their owners.

The Breaking of the Fellowship – Work Party 3 back on Harris

Sadly, the weather did not let up on Hirta for our last days. On Sunday night we had tremendous rain and on Monday, Tuesday (and Wednesday, and Thursday), all the streams were raging torrents.  When on a work party, one’s task is clearing out the many small water courses, one wonders why on earth this needs to be done. Look at the pictures – that water was still flowing 2 days after the rain. The dry burn had water flowing down it on 10 days of our time on Hirta. The tiny water courses were awash, the minister’s well was overflowing, and the whole hillside in that area was a sheet of water – from Tuesday to Thursday! At the Feather Store, the path was a river.

Once the cloud base lifted enough, the Monday helicopter was able to slide in (in fact it managed 2 flights), bringing a welcome surprise in the form of chocolates sent by Julie (who masterminds the Facebook page, and has been posting this blog once it is emailed to her) with a note saying that as she couldn’t manage to send an umbrella, she hoped that the chocolate would cheer everyone up. It was much appreciated.

The envelope also included 2 laminated posters advertising our Facebook page with the request to post them somewhere that people would see them. The first place was obvious – the shop. Everyone goes (or should go) there. For the other poster, Gina, the bird warden had a cunning plan – she suggested putting it on the toilet door – people could read it as they waited.

The last day included finishing off our time running the shop – over the 2 weeks we were there, the shop took in £5,692.66 – great work by our band of enthusiastic shopkeepers Gael, Sarah and Austin.

Over our last week, some of us got involved in Haiku (of the 5, 7, 5 variety). The only rule was that the Haiku had to pertain to St Kilda. Some entries include:

Soay Sheep are brown / And black, and sandy and white / I like brown the best.

Chef’s in the kitchen / What time will we be eating / another yummy meal?

The St Kilda mouse / stores gingerbread, nuts and cheese / in his island house

Wet and windy day / the boat is not on its way / so here we will stay

Salt Spray on the lips / wind a rushing past your ears / land of ever change

The day boats are gone / The island is ours again / Peace prevails once more

“Paint the gun” they said / “Wot? Paint that soddin gun black?”/ Red is rather odd

Snorking all night long / There’s no peace for the wicked / Will I ever sleep?

For an explanation of this last one, see below.

On our last day, with everything tidied up, we loaded Orca 2 to return to Harris. One important object to be loaded was our Mail Boat – made by Stuart, and given the quaint name of “Snork”. With Cees Groot in our party coming from Holland, there had been great discussion about “snorking” in House 1. It seems that all the blokes felt that someone was snorking at night, but denying that is was themselves (for ”snorking” read “snoring”!) The name “Snork” seemed appropriate and this is what she was named. We departed from Hirta in the same weather conditions as when we arrived – dreich! The traditional final group photograph includes Kevin, the St Kilda Archaeologist, who is, to all intents and purposes a member of the work party, and it seemed appropriate to include him in the picture.

Once at Boreray, there was a ceremonial launch, and Snork is now somewhere in the north Atlantic, carrying our message of hope to somewhere interesting.

  

As we circled Boreray, some Orca were spotted, and for 15 minutes, we drifted as a pod of Orca swam round the Orca 2. My pictures are rubbish, but once we get some good ones, we can post them on the Facebook page. Meantime, see the “Kilda Cruises” website at http://www.kildacruises.co.uk/   for some excellent video shot by their crew.

As we watched, amazed, suddenly one of the Orca crew shouted, “They’ve got a kill!” The water went red, and a bit of a seal was tossed out of the water. Not content with that, they made another kill. One of our group has a pic of the Orca with a seal sticking out of its mouth. The picture here shows an Orca tossing part of a seal in the air. These creatures (Orca) look fantastic, and to have at least 4 of them circling the boat for so long was something very few experience. Eventually, we drew away, leaving them to their dinner. In one of the pics, you can see the sea turning red.

Sadly, once we reached Harris, we had the “breaking of the fellowship” to borrow a phrase from Tolkien. No sooner has we reached Leverburgh, than Gael and Stuart shot off to try to catch the ferry at Tarbert and get home that night (they did!). Next morning saw Cees, Lucy, Imogen and Austin catch the bus to Tarbert, where Lucy stopped off, and for the other two on to Stornway and hence back to the main land. Ed, Malcolm (our cook) and Sarah drove off to drop Malcolm in Tarbert and take Sarah to Stornway. Ed lives in Lewis, and he then went home. Christine, Phil and myself drove to Tarbert for the morning ferry, and the final dispersal was complete.

An excellent time and good work done by the group, who are to be thanked for all their hard work. Malcolm stepped in at the last minute and was an excellent cook who was much appreciated. On the down side, the weather was atrocious – no good for walking on the hills, but I think that everyone had ample opportunity to see the island to their satisfaction.